Today the enfant terrible is a grand tradition in cinema. At age 26 Orson Welles wrote, produced, directed and starred in Citizen Kane, at age 24 Rainer Werner Fassbinder did the same with Love is Colder Than Death and at age 24 Harmony Korine wrote and directed Gummo.
Premiering at the Raindance Film Festival on the 28th September is Strings by Rob Savage. Making the aforementioned helmers look old, Savage began principle photography on his feature on his eighteenth birthday (whilst casually doubling up as cinematographer and editor). “Strings started life as a short film, inspired by the advent of university,” Savage remembers. “It was a pretty slight script, all set in one bedroom and made up of post-coital conversations.”
The teenage director brought a surprisingly mature perspective to his immediate youthful experiences, yet the film’s beginnings were not sheltered from teething problems. “I had started shooting on borrowed prosumer cameras. I was pretty happy with the film, but lost all the footage after a power surge fried my PC and everything on it. I tried to cheer myself up and bought a German drama called Requiem – I remember feeling completely recharged after seeing it. To this day I count it as a film that epitomises what I would love to achieve as a filmmaker.”
So moved he was by the experience of Requiem, the aspiring director contacted the lead actress Sandra Hüller and before long they met in Munich. “She introduced me to a young actress who she had been mentoring: Philine Lembeck. I immediately began re-writing Strings into a feature with Philine in mind for the lead role, and we began shooting a year later.”
Referencing Fucking Åmål (1998), Red Road (2006), Somersault (2004), Breaking The Waves (1996), Better Things (2008) and Le Rayon Vert (1986), Savage’s list of influences betrays a savvy European cinephilia, while Strings exhibits a strong understanding of how to use cinematic style to emotional effect.
“I really wanted the visuals to capture those woozy, endless summers in all their boredom and excitement, as well as one’s first experiences of sex, sensuality and romance. Strings has a very loose structure and is punctuated by a series of scenes in which the characters dance – each signalling a different point in their journey. Visually, I referenced the cinematography of Robbie Ryan, Adam Arkapaw and Anthony Dodd Mantle, particularly his work with Lars Von Trier.”
Referencing styles frequently associated with low budgets allowed Savage to work effectively within a very tight budget, while crafting an artistically coherent production. “The film cost under £5000 to make, most of which went on flying our lead star from Germany. We begged, borrowed and stole kit and I wrote the script around locations that I knew we had access to.”
“We had every technical, organisational and logistical problem you could imagine. One day, all of our lights exploded. During our concert set piece the lens adapter got elbowed by an enthusiastic dancer; we had to perform battlefield surgery on the camera mid take.“
Yet the young director attests to an atmosphere of “spontaneous creativity” on set, with a freewheeling approach to improvisation, based on the characters. “The fact that I was cinematographer and editor meant that I could shoot with a certain confidence. I never left a scene feeling that we hadn’t nailed it and without a rough edit already assembled in my head.”
In spite of his cinephilia and interest in the nuts and bolts of filmmaking, Savage maintains his emotional focus as a director. “Strings is a film about the listlessness of being a teenager: it’s about the thrill of finding a connection and the long hours of boredom spent after you realise that “love” can’t solve everything.”
“Audiences should expect a naturalistic, painful and, hopefully, honest portrayal of teenage lives and relationships, without the sensationalism or sexualisation that other films have incorporated.”
“Strings has really been the project that has allowed me to work professionally within the industry. The same team who made Strings worked with me on Sit in Silence, an entry for the Sci-Fi-London 48hour film challenge (which introduced the world to Gareth Edwards of Monsters fame), which came second place out of over 200 entries and won the BFI Future Film Award.
Strings also won Savage a place on the renowned Berlin Film Festival Talent Campus, “I was mentored by filmmakers such as Werner Herzog and Mike Leigh.” His next gig is also a short film for Channel 4.
But what are his hopes for the future of Strings? “We’re hoping that the film will get picked up for distribution and will lead to bigger, brighter things for all involved. The cast are all exceptional in the film, so I’ll eat my hat if they aren’t immediately snapped up for larger roles. Following the news of the film’s nomination for Best Debut we have already received some exciting news for the film, which I’ll reveal after the press release has gone out.”
Prepping a sophomore feature, along with his numerous other projects, Rob Savage is an inspiring young director who knows not to rest on his laurels and stay true to his name. “Try something hugely ambitious, don’t wait for permission. If it seems like an impossible undertaking, you are probably underestimating yourself. Sometimes you need to trap yourself into a position where you have no alternative but to give it your all.”
Strings premiers at the Raindance Film Festival on the 28th of September. Book tickets here.